Plus Ian Young, Vicki Thomson and Kwong Lee Dow: winners this week

Open Access expands audience

Nature Communications reports a survey showing articles in the hybrid journal are read and cited more than those behind paywalls. It adds to the case for Open Access made by Colin Steele and Danny Kingsley in the new CMM Briefing (link on the homepage).

Here there be dragons

ANU DVC Marnie Hughes Warrington invoked Daenerys Targaryen in her war against House Powerpoint yesterday (via Twitter) and wished Ms Targaryen luck in her struggle for the iron throne – no, this is not a reference to Ian Young’s job. Game of Thrones is (sadly) everywhere

Bruce and Tim are here to HELP

In his Wednesday address to the National Press Club ANU VC Ian Young firmly suggested the government should adopt HECS creator Bruce Chapman’s alternatives to the present plan to tie interest on student debt to the Commonwealth bond rate. And yesterday – what a surprise – the options paper turned up, via The Age. It is easy to see why Professor Young recommended it so mightily to the minister. Professor Chapman and Australian National University colleague Dr Timothy Higgins have produced a comprehensive analysis of the government’s plan, demonstrating it is thoroughly regressive – slugging lower income earning graduates and those who are in and out of the workforce with higher repayments over the life of their loans compared to people who pay off their HECS debt fast. They estimate the extra debt could be as high as $30,000 on a $60 000 loan. Instead they offer two options. The first uses CPI as the interest rate on debt before a graduate reaches the repayment threshold and the bond rate after. The second uses the existing Fee Help system, a 25 per cent loan surcharge with interest on the total set at the CPI. The authors argue repayments under either option are more equitable for all borrowers. They conclude that the increases in subsidy under both options are “relatively small.”

If the feds fail to fault the figures (which seems likely, given Professor Chapman wrote the book on income contingent loans) the government would be mad not to adopt the plan as an incentive for cross-bench senators to pass the substantive sections of the Pyne package. Even Universities Australia suspended its vow of silence yesterday to endorse Chapman and Higgins yesterday, saying the “paper represents a fairer approach to student loans and is less likely to deter students from accessing higher education.” Adopting the plan would be a small political price to pay, but whether small enough in cash terms for the Treasurer is another issue. Of course, the government could hang tough – and watch the whole package fail as the interest rate issue sucks all the policy oxygen out of the debate.

Gone to the dogs

“Guide dogs prove to be model students at UQ,” the University of Queensland announces. See, deregulation is not even in place and already universities will let anyone in.

Wayne’s world

Wayne McKenna announced his grand research structure to colleagues at the Australian Catholic University yesterday. Professor McKenna has gone for growth by buying in research-rich talent, and lots of it – including the 40 or so strong Centre for Positive Psychology, from his previous employer, the University of Western Sydney, at the beginning of the year. I hear that they do not speak of Professor of McKenna with much fondness at UWS anymore. But at ACU all (well some) of the talk yesterday was about his five “research intensification” institutes; learning science, religion and critical inquiry, positive psychology and education, and social justice.

The fifth, on health, (slated for a much flasher name when Professor McKenna can come up with one) is headed by another import, Professor Simon Stewart who joins ACU, from the Baker IDI no less! I wonder what this is all costing but what I don’t wonder is why VC Greg Craven is so adamant that any institution that calls itself a university must research – he is spending a bomb to propel ACU up the rankings.

Quiet without Chris

The reason why we did not hear of the many benefits of deregulation from Education Minister Chris Pyne for a day or so is because he went to Jerusalem to give a speech. The address emphasised the traditional friendship between Australia and Israel, without a mention of deregulation! He’s back so normal transmission will resume.

Start younger

You have to feel sorry for the feds – what with the way they have to keep changing the names of their equity programs. (That which started out as the Higher Education Equity Program became the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program. It is now the Higher Education Participation Program). What is worse is that they may not do much good under any name. Earlier in the year work for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research suggested that individual attitude was the best driver of making it to university and succeeding there. So much for spending on intervention with 18 year olds! There was some media scoffing at the time but now the NCVER has come back with more findings, that by 15 “the die is cast” for students’ school performance and by extension their chances in higher education. And what matters most is not the school but ability and self-belief, plus a stable home. According to NCVER head Rod Camm, if intervention is to help it must start earlier. Back to the acronym board bureaucrats.

Bill adds up

Finally Bill Shorten got into the deregulation debate yesterday. Admittedly it was only a tweet on the Bruce Chapman and Timothy Higgins paper, suggesting that the Pyne plan is unfair but it was the first sign the opposition leader is interested. Perhaps he is beginning to count votes in it.

Winners of the week

What a week for wonks! There was policy aplenty as the deregulation debate heated up. The week started with carefully calibrated comments by higher education elder statesmen Kwong Lee Dow, retired vice chancellor, governance expert and universally respected safe pair of hands on reviews commissioned by Labor and coalition governments alike. Professor Lee Dow was a member of the Kemp Review, which proposed higher education deregulation in the late ‘90s, which made his scathing criticism of the Pyne package all the more damaging. According to Professor Lee Dow, the deal will damage regional universities and hurt country students and their families. Not that he made a fuss about it – making a speech in Ballarat and waiting for a hack (CMM as it turned out) to come asking. Discrete but damaging for deregulation.

No one will ever accuse Ian “the gent” Young of being a self-promoter either but the Group of Eight chair and ANU VC obviously thinks he has to get out in the media to support deregulation. He made a solid speech, followed by a polished performance answering questions at the National Press Club on Wednesday, making the case for most of Mr Pyne’s plan. Most Go8 VCs are out arguing for deregulation and Professor Young is leading from the front.

When it comes to wonkery none can compare with the creator of the income contingent loan, universally known and loved as HECS, ANU professor Bruce Chapman. Yesterday a paper by him and colleague Dr Timothy Higgins outlined alternatives to the government’s proposed real interest rate (capped at 6 per cent) on student debt. In the absence of some very serious numbers from the feds this looks like a superior proposal to that (which looks in comparison) bodgied up for the budget.

But a policy paper is only as good as the strategist who sells it – which makes the Group of Eight very lucky indeed to have secured Vicki Thomson as new executive director. Ms Thomson speaks fluent policy, eloquent politics and can make herself understood by reptiles of the press. She did very well at the Australian Technology Network and her appointment is a big win for the Eight.

And finally praise for two policy campaigners who are endlessly energetic in the cause of open access. Colin Steele and Danny Kingsley have long argued that the way publishers charge for access to taxpayer funded research is not in the community interest. Their recent papers (published, why, what a coincidence, on this very site) explain why.

So far so good

Greg McMillan PVC (TAFE) at the new cross-sector CQU celebrates the first month of the merger, “TAFE staff remain focused on our people, students, industry.” Be a worry if they weren’t.